Habitat Type: Marine
Comments: Abundant, at least historically, in shallow waters of the tropical western Atlantic, in and about coral reefs, seagrass beds, cuts, rocks, pilings, and seawalls; almost always in less than 30 m of water (Voss et al. 1969). Generally found near high-relief coral reefs and rocky bottoms from the shoreline to 90 m depth; larger fish are more common at depths greater than 50 m (Jory and Iversen 1989). Characterized as an apex predator in shallow (< 30 m) reef and hard-bottom habitats (Parrish 1987). Common on shallow coral reefs throughout the Caribbean region, with a depth range extending to at least 90 m; juveniles are common in seagrass beds (Heemstra and Randall 1993). Moderately common on patch reefs and well-developed or high relief spur and groove reefs in the Florida Keys (Sluka and Sullivan 1996b), particularly in those areas protected from spearfishing (Sluka and Sullivan 1998). Juveniles particularly prevalent on shallow-water patch reefs; appear to migrate to deeper, offshore reefs with size (Carr and Hixon 1995, Sluka et al. 1996b, Sluka and Sullivan 1998). Individuals recruit from deep oceanic habitats to shallow bank habitats in the Bahamas at 20.2-27.8 mm standard length (Grover 1993, 1994, Shenker et al. 1993). Abundant in shallow-water (1-20 m) patch reefs, low-relief hard-bottom, channel reefs, and high-relief fringing reefs in the central Bahamas (Sluka et al. 1996a). Occurs on patch reefs and fore reef zones from 4-12 m depth in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas; particularly abundant in areas with high relief (Alevizon et al. 1985, Turingan and Acosta 1990, Carr and Hixon 1995). Also occurs on outer continental shelf bank habitats at 45-50 m depth in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico (Rezak et al. 1985). Large adults common in the southeastern United States Atlantic Ocean at 50-80 m depth (Huntsman et al. 1990). Important nursery habitats are shallow-water sites with coral clumps covered with macroalgae. Post-settlement fish reside exclusively within algal-covered coral clumps; early juveniles (6-15 cm TL) reside outside of and adjacent to algal-covered clumps; and larger juveniles exhibit an ontogenetic habitat shift from macroalgae-coral clumps to patch reef habitats at a size of 12-15 cm total length during the late summer and early fall in the Bahamas (Eggleston 1995). Spawning aggregations during the winter months (November-February) in the tropical western Atlantic occur in particular habitats. Off the southern coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico, spawning adults occur at 6-35 m depth on fore reef habitats in mainland and offshore bank; the habitat consists of sand interspersed with hard-bottom or rocky outcrops (Aguilar-Perera 1990). Spawning aggregations also occur in the following habitats: edges of banks (29-38 m) over a low-relief hard-bottom (Smith 1972); near promontories or ends of island shelves (Tucker 1989, Tucker et al. 1993). Many aggregation sites have turbulent currents and upwards of 3-5 m vertical relief at 25-30 m depth (Colin et al. 1987, Colin 1992).